In Russia, and the United States, there is probably only one constant when predicting future relations between the two nations: Youth will be served.
This was among the many lessons ASUN President Charlie Jose took from an eight-day visit he made to Russia in March, as part of an invitation from the Federal Agency on Youth Affairs of the Russian Federation.
Jose, a senior mathematics major from Las Vegas, was one of only 15 student body presidents from throughout the country chosen to participate in the exchange program. The visit was part of an effort to gain a better understanding of Russia’s development in the wake of the fall of communism and a subsequent rise of capitalism. Jose was nominated by Nevada U.S. Sen. Harry Reid to be a part of the group.
Jose said he found elements to the Russian political and business systems that were in direct contrast to the United States; however, there were also similarities that gave Jose reason to feel optimistic about the two countries’ diplomatic futures.
“The insight I gained from working with the Russian Federation reinforced my outlook that we are all human,” Jose said. “Our existence in the global community far surpasses our day-to-day realities. While the Russian Federation is faced with unique problems such as corruption in all levels of government and business, our two nations share common issues within politics, economics and culture, which are managed differently according to different ideologies.
“Just as the United States relies on the younger generation to carry the torch of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the Russian Federation is heavily reliant on a pragmatic younger generation to replace a Soviet-minded older generation.”
Vice President Joseph Biden encouraged truthful give-and-take between the young leaders of both countries, during a speech he delivered during the visit. He termed the generational common ground found in both countries a “reset” in relations that should be built upon in the coming decades.
“While we represented our universities and the United States, our presence in Russia had a more profound meaning: we were some of the first student leaders taking part in the new diplomatic ‘reset’ of U.S.-Russian relations,” Jose said. “The eight-day journey not only gave me a new perspective on Russia, but also helped refine my perception of politics, relations, people and interdependence.”
Jose’s agenda included meetings with several top Russian officials, including Arkady Dvorkovich, a leading national economic adviser; Sen. Alexander Torshin, the first deputy speaker of the Russian Federation Council; and Russia’s third-most powerful figure, Vladislav Surkov, first deputy chief of staff to the president.
In addition to visiting Red Square in Moscow and seeing such notable Russian landmarks as St. Basil’s Cathedral, meetings with Russian political and business leaders left a strong impression on Jose.
Among the highlights:
During a Day 2 meeting with Igor Agamirzyan, CEO of the Russian Venture Company, Jose learned of Russia’s “heavy desire to privatize companies and spur innovation to take Russia into the next generation. He mentioned that rather than the government controlling the economy as a whole, the government merely needs to have special tools necessary to drive economic development, and expansion will come inherently after.”
During a Day 3 visit with Dvorkovich, the aide to the president noted that economic diversification, just as in the state of Nevada and throughout the United States, is a pressing concern for his nation. “(Dvorkovich) noted that investment of prominent American companies in Russia is one of the main things contributing to the growing success of the economy,” Jose said. “With companies like Boeing and Cisco already in the country, continued investments hopefully spreading across the federation would greatly add to the diversified economy of the Federation. He also mentioned that the role of the government should be to promote ‘best practices’ and provide the infrastructure necessary to host foreign investors.”
On Day 7, a meeting with Sen. Torshin almost did not happen. The group’s van broke down, and making matters worse, the metro was closed. “We had to travel to our meeting with Senator Torshin by gypsy cab,” Jose said. “Our guide from the Federal Agency on Youth Affairs flagged down random citizens driving down the street and instructed them to drive us to the office of one of the most prominent people in the nation.” Once there, Jose found Torshin to be, not surprisingly, well-versed in the Russian legislative process. “In addition to the basic government information,” Jose said, “we discussed alternative energy resources, entrepreneurship, and creating a sustainable business climate. He discussed a flat tax scale, creating a special protection regime and punishing those responsible for corruption – he laughed when we told him how we got to his office. … His final take-home message was that young people should learn from each other and should advise the country on what to do.”
Perhaps the most thought-provoking interaction came later that day, when the group met with Surkov, considered the third-most powerful figure in the Russian Federation. Through interpreters, Surkov gave the young visitors a history of his country, and discussed his own perception of the United States.
“He mentioned that America is an attractive country, but the teaching of democracy is a cause of irritation,” Jose said. “He said the Internet has played a great role in contributing to the democracy of the nation. Unlike Russia during the Soviet era, where every facet of the media was controlled by the government, (Surkov said) the youth in the present era can get news from any source on the Internet … Though, it is with this ‘new’ youth where the nation must find talent to put a spark in government.”
On his eighth and final day in Russia, Jose was actually the only one of the 15 student body presidents to leave on a separate flight. His flight did not depart until 8 p.m., which gave Jose an opportunity to visit further with Pavel Laptev from the Federal Agency on Youth Affairs at the airport. The conversation, Jose said, was relaxed and “candid.”
Laptev told his visitor from Nevada that he truly believed the two nations were capable of producing “extraordinary things with more collaboration through universities, government and businesses.”
“He also said it’s not about the Russians, nor is it about Americans,” Jose said. “It is about humanity and contributing to the global community.”